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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 3 - 2 Villarreal

A Mariano brace helps Real Madrid win at the Bernabeu

Real Madrid CF v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Real Madrid beat Villarreal 3 - 1 (Mariano x2, Vallejo; Moreno) at the Bernabeu. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.

Real Madrid’s penultimate home match of the season ends in a win over Villarreal, in what was, even in front of sparse Bernabeu, a victory with exciting attacking impetus and flair.

That’s not something you get often at this stage of the season. And while today’s win felt good, the bar was low, and Villarreal were a defensive mess — leaving themselves vulnerable to vertical passes through central channels and allowing overloads from Marcelo and Dani Carvajal to go unchallenged.

Still, it should be noted that both of Real Madrid’s wing-backs played well today, and Marcelo in particular put in one of his better performances this season. The Brazilian spent a lot of time in the final third (certainly more than he did under Santiago Solari), and given Villarreal weren’t too dangerous on the counter, Kroos, Vallejo, and Casemiro could cover for his runs without being too unnerved. Marcelo would look to cut in and shoot or create off the dribble as much as he could, and it was through a Marcelo shot that Jesus Vallejo scored Real Madrid’s second goal from:

Marcelo was dangerous all night, and combined well with Kroos on the left ‘just like old times’. The two combined for nine key passes and eight shots — most of their damage coming in the first half.

Real Madrid weren’t bothered much defensively in this match. Jesus Vallejo and Raphael Varane both controlled the defensive line well. It was encouraging to see Vallejo put in another impressive shift tonight — reading the game well and continuing to look impressive with his vertical distribution.

When Villarreal did threaten, it was through a rare break on the counter, or in the case of their goal, dispossessing Casemiro in an opportunistic position:

Real Madrid also got good contributions from Brahim Diaz and Fede Valverde. Since Vinicius went down injured against Ajax, we haven’t seen a player constantly looking to break lines and take players on the way Brahim has, so it’s fun to see his talent going hand-in-hand with his knack for putting the offense into motion. In the case of Fede, the Uruguayan’s passing in transition could’ve been better, but he had some good defensive interventions and was comfortable controlling the tempo of the game, even when confined to tight spaces.

It was his pass that unlocked Villarreal’s defense for Real Madrid’s third goal:

This was a solid performance from Mariano throughout, and he reminded us of why his goalscoring ratio was among the league’s best in France last season. If he’s healthy, he always had a case to play more, but neither Lopetegui nor Solari really found him more than a deep part of the depth chart puzzle. His off-ball instinct and athletic ability allow him to get on the end of crosses, and he can generate his own shot while pressing efficiently. A solid brace from Mariano today.

The second half was routine. Villarreal did have moments on the counter, as did Real Madrid. The most notable moment was when Vinicius Jr came on in the second half for Brahim Diaz to a standing ovation from the Bernabeu, and for a brief moment, we saw him create chaos from the left and link-up with Mariano and Marcelo. It’ll be fun to see him and Brahim play together in the last two games of the season.

Weird end to this game as I finish this immediate reaction: Real Madrid concede a late goal in the 94th minute. Gerrard Moreno dribbled past Casemiro and found an open Jaume Costa at the top of the box. Then Villarreal nearly scored again on the last kick of the match.

We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.

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